January 27, 1988

Ever wondered what keeps a ski jumper flying or a luger on track? Here are some answers

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A downhill race goes to the swiftest, and often that's the racer who follows the shortest course. A skier tries to avoid being airborne because time spent in the air increases the distance he must travel. To keep from being pitched skyward by bumps, he prejumps them by pulling his skis off the snow just before they hit the bumps (above).

Downhill racers reduce wind resistance by tucking their bodies into something close to the fetal position (left). The tighter the tuck, the more smoothly air flows around the skier. When the flow is chaotic, eddies are created behind the racer, lowering the air pressure and exerting a slight backward tug.

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Unraveling how the judges score Olympic figure skating is just about as difficult as skating the figures yourself. Here's how it works. The competition consists of three events: the compulsory figures, which count for 30% of the total score; the short program (20%); and the long program. The skater is required to perform three figures during the compulsories and seven elements in the two-minute short programâ€”including spins, specific sequences of foot movements and jumps. The freestyle program lasts four minutes for women, 4Â½ minutes for men.

Now matters get complicated. Each of the compulsory figures is awarded a score ranging from zero to six on the basis of technical merit. The short and long programs get one mark each for technique and one for artistic impression. Fractions of a point are deducted for incorrect technique and for elements missed from the short program. The nine judges keep track of the scores they've given each competitor, and when all the contestants have finished, each judge ranks them by these scores.

There's more. After each event has been completed, accountants compute a skater's total score by this formula: They multiply his rank in the compulsories by 0.6, his rank in the short program by 0.4 and his rank in the long program by 1.0, and add it all together for the skater's total score.

Here's an example. Let's say a skater finishes second in the compulsories, then fourth in the short program and third in the long. His score for the compulsories would be 2 x 0.6, or 1.2. For the short program it would be 4 X 0.4, or 1.6; for the long, 3 X 1.0, or 3.0. Thus his total is 1.2 + 1.6 + 3.0 = 5.8. Oh, yes, the contestant with the lowest score wins.

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 ARTICLES GALLERIES COVERS Gerhard Grimmer 1 0 0 Calgary 126 0 4 Germany 524 0 1 United States 8021 0 232 Shannon Brownlee 1 0 0